Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year That Was 2010

Many things were said in 2010. Not only the private acid comments revealed by Julian Assange, but some uttered in public were just as difficult to swallow.

Minister of Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng, the defacto "population czar", confirmed what was a sore issue at the ground level, "I acknowledge that there are also those on employment passes holding jobs that Singaporeans are willing to do, and who compete directly with Singaporeans."

Law Minister K Shanmugam, refusing to admit what Singaporeans already know, said "If the media are no more than a mouthpiece for one or the other party, Singaporeans will see through that and the credibility of the media will suffer." That should explain the falling circulation figures of the Straits Times.

Minister without portfolio and Labour Chief Lim Swee Say also strained credibility when he dismissed talk that his call for a partial Central Provident Fund restoration was linked to a general election ploy: "When we help...workers, it must not be because an election is coming. If we do that, we lose credibility - (that) before an election we push for something, then after the election our workplan changes."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, interviewed by Charlie Rose on his Current Affairs program, said this of his own father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew: "He calls himself a mascot."

Lee Kuan Yew's eulogy to Goh Keng Swee included the snipe, "I had asked him to negotiate a looser arrangement for Singapore but keep Singapore within the Federation. He on his own decided, after discussions with them, to have a clean break."

Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, explained to Parliament how his YOG's S$104 million budget ballooned to S$387 million: "Our initial budget estimates during the bid phase were inaccurate". What he did not clarify was how S$79.8 million was buried in "Other Costs".

Minister of Education Ng Eng Hen set off a firebomb (figuratively! figuratively!) with: "The high weighting given to mother tongue languages in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is now under review and could be reduced." The furious backpedalling followed immediately: "But I should have chosen my words more carefully and apologise for creating that wrong impression.”

Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew ventured into engaging the new media: “Why are the majority of netizens not sympathetic towards MP Seng – is it because of widespread resentment about MPs and government policies, or is that the majority of online Singaporeans have no morals or compassion, and are mean, deceitful and simply put, horrible people?”

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim claimed the Bukit Timah flood was a “freak” event which happens only “once in 50 years”. Soon after, it was Orchard Road's turn.

"Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say 'We let you go,' what is the signal we are sending?" was his reply at a dialog session in Joo Chiat on 9 May 2010. Law Minister Shanmugan's defence for sub judice: "The Government is entitled to comment on such policies.

Minister for Transport Raymond Lim's justification for the disguised fare hike: "63% of all commuters would see fare savings in their weekly public transport spending under Distance Fares." Net happiness is not applicable here, at least not for the average commuter.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan on his sincerity to solve the long term housing problems: "If you ask me whether it has got anything to do with the elections, the answer is yes. Everything has to do with the elections."

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was caught unawares by a student: "If the majority feel they don't belong here, then we have a fundamental problem. Then I would ask myself: What am I doing here? " No fair, we asked that question first.

Minister-in-charge of issues of ageing Lim Boon Heng, 63, suggesting re-employment period to be extended to age 67: "People are healthier and living longer, so they need more money so as to relieve the burden on their children and the Government." Emphasis is on latter, obviously.

"Resorts World at Sentosa understands (Singapore's) need to maintain these probity checks and there is no issue now," Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang down playing the link with Macau tycoon Stanley Ho. Many other issues came about later.

Foreign Minister George Yeo’s comment on Wikileaks: "I’m quite sure they make worse comments about me." Could he be jealous his opinion wasn't sought by the US diplomats?

Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean explaining crash landing of a Apache helicopter: "The maintenance procedure does not call for the RSAF to open up the AISBV." That's techno-speak for sheer incompetence.

Finally, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan walks away with the Pinnochio prize for tallest tale of the year: "My out-of-pocket expense for the hospital bill was $8 only."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

If It Ain't Broke....

When the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) implements the registration of dual heritage options for children of mixed parentage on Saturday, it could open up a Pandora's box of sorts. First announced in Parliament in January 2010, the initiative purportedly offers the flexibility of how the children's race will be recorded e.g. the offspring of an Indian-Chinese union will have a hyphenated Indian-Chinese or Chinese-Indian designation. The son of an Indian could be called Dhanabalan, but his identity card (NRIC) may indicate his race as as Chinese-Indian. Suppose the parents make the decision based on the complexion of the little tot on arrival, and DNA checks are in order. As the child develops, and should skin tone change dramatically, fairer or darker, there is option to change the race classification at age 21. Before this age, if a couple has three successive kids of different shades, porcelain white, chocolate brown and ebony black, all three will have to stick to the same "double-barrelled" race classification.

And the fun really begins when an Indian-Chinese marries a Malay-German. ICA's "neat" solution is to use the first component of the quadruple-barrelled combination for the double-barrelled race classification. And a Chinese-Italian and Indian-Thai couple is permitted to register with a single race, so long as either first component is used for the race option, obliterating three bloodlines with a single stroke of the pen. Too bad if granddad's proud heritage gets lost in the mathematical permutation.

There is no neat solution to race or ethnic classification. Just stop and think of the human tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda.

Race is a term intended to designate main subdivisions of the human species. Its core intention is to distinguish groups based on physical characteristics, such as skin pigmentation and hair texture. When a child does not strongly resemble either parent, he/she may have difficulty time identifying with either in attempting to resolve the duality. Should the child arbitrarily identify with his or her most influential parental/dominant figure, peer conflict may result if the child’s physical appearance does not support the choice of racial identification. It is painful enough to watch interracial couples resolve their own racial identity issues, but do the kids have to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of racial identity formation as well? Contemporary researchers may suggest that race is largely a social construct that has little biological significance, despite the societal emphasis placed on race. But milk tolerance rates are extremely racially specific, and lactose intolerance (LI) primarily affects people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Jewish and African descent. The harried doctor at a public hospital may be misled by the NRIC information.

Recall the hullabaloo when teachers were instructed to use only Hanyu Pinyin names in class, and the poor kids didn't know when they were addressed. There's wisdom in grandpa's advice, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." You should remember him, he's the guy who used to have your same surname.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

His And Her Story In Singapore

She left life in a soyabean farm and the harsh winters of Hielongjiang province, China, to seek a better life in October 2009. Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) let her in as a foreign talent to work as an assistant supervisor in an Indian restaurant at Jalan Besar. The real money was made on the side as a hostess at the Club Infinitude karaoke lounge of Outram Road. By March 2010, she was earning top dollar, commanding $800 for an overnight personal engagement.

He attended the best schools in Singapore and University of California, Berkeley, in USA. After graduation, at 24, he worked at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) between 1995 and 2001, and became Vice President of their real estate arm. In 2001, he was already CEO of Roundtree Capital, a company with US$5 billion in investments in Asia.

But the tragic confluence of two disparate lives climaxed not at Verona, but in a multi-million dollar bungalow at exclusive Sentosa Cove. The state coroner recorded that she undressed for a skinny dip in the private lap pool of the mansion in the early morning hours, her untimely death by drowning at age 24 ruled a misadventure. There can be no better illustration of how ugly a Gini coefficient inequality can serve up. The Bard penned these words:
"The sun, for sorrow will not show its head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe..."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who's The Expert Here?

It was sheer chutzpah for the M1 spokesperson to strongly object to the Government proposal for ISPs to state average internet access speeds clearly by saying "there is no basically no sound, objective and equitable basis to do so considering the many variables involved." That's like saying a car will never achieve the advertised x kilometers per liter because of road surface, tyre condition, driving skill and the odd freak flood theory offered by Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

When Starhub, Singtel or M1 signs up a customer for one of it's high speed 10Mbps broadband plans (or  vaunted 100Mbps fibre link), it makes you wonder if they bother to check if the customer is using a relic 800 MHz IBM Thinkpad running Win98. As for verifying connectivity, real engineers carry professional toolkits to check line quality at the wall-end cable point, independent of the PC equipment hooked up. In November this year, the Sydney-based Australian Federation Court found Singtel-Optus guilty of "deceptive conduct" for throttling back a consumer who had exceeded his quota of peak hour usage down to the sub-broadband level of 64 Kbps, and there was no challenge to Justice Nye Perram's technical determination of access speed.

For the gang of three ISPs to dare to cock a snook at the Government's proposal to get them to disclose the average surfing speed for marketing their broadband services, they must be really disdainful of the level of competence of the IDA or technically challenged minister in charge, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore had a bad start when their first CEO daughter of ex-Chief Justice Yong Pung How defended her dubious appointment with words to the effect, "I may not know what CDMA is, but I can always hire someone who does". If the people put in charge by the Government are lacking in expertise, the supervised private sector can only run amok. The IDA should bring in the expert from the Australian court.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time To Sober Up

People always like to tell success stories, like the yarn of teenage girls making millions selling trinkets on eBay. But real life's a bit more complicated.

The Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) character in the "Social Network" movie about the origin of Facebook is brutally honest when he narrates at net speed the 43 second tale (between 01:21:17 and 01:22:00) of how things really work:

"A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond wants to buy his wife some lingerie, but he's too embarrassed to shop for it in a department store.
He comes up with an idea for a high-end place that doesn't make you feel like a pervert.
He gets a $40,000 bank loan, borrows another 40,000 from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria's Secret.
Makes a half million dollars his first year. Starts a catalog, opens three more stores,and after five years, he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limitedfor $4 million.
Happy ending, right?
Except two years later, the company's worth $500 million, and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh-highs, you know?"

Is that a parable? So asked the young Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jess Esienberg). We have our own tall tales in town, like the son of a Prime Minister who made Brigadier General, also at net speed, despite skipping Section Leaders' Course and missing 4 months of Officer Cadet Training. Does anybody know anything at all about the poor sap who threw himself into the MRT train tracks? The T-shirt tells it all: "Life's A Bitch, Then You Die". After all the revelries, that should sober up the year end partying crowd.
Anaglyph 3D image of a lesson in life

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Guys Want For Christmas

Santa does his darndest best to make wishes come true during Christmas, but some tasks are simply too herculean to even attempt. One party wants to sue the Government for torture during his ISA detention, another is asking the Government to cut car taxes to offset hefty COE premiums. Notice Grinch is also spelled with a "G". Good luck with the former, the latter problem is theoretically solvable.

On paper, the Government uses Certificates Of Entitlement to cap the growth of the car population. The growth was halved to 1.5% last year, although the growth in human population was significantly higher. Every 6 months, the Land Transport Authority determines how many COEs will be available, based on the number of vehicles taken off the road in the preceding 6 months. You don't need a genius to figure out that when motorists postpone their next car purchase because of economic uncertainty, less cars will be deregistered. The shrinking pool of COEs can only drive the demand and cost of premiums upwards, a vicious cycle spiralling into a black hole of misery. Control engineers will recognize it as a feedback loop gone horribly wrong.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport Dr Lim Wee Kiak articulated what the motoring public has been asking for umpteen years, to let the buyers bid for what they are prepared to pay. Said Dr Lim, "This means that when you bid for it you pay the actual price of what you bid. Rather than the current system where you pay the lowest (bid), not the highest." It also means car dealers will no longer have their way ripping off potential buyers with "guaranteed" COEs. He's filing a question on the issue to be addressed by Transport Minister Grinch Raymond Lim at the next parliamentary sitting. Come to think about it, maybe the guy planning a lawsuit about the ISA might have a better response.

On subject of Christmas presents, what do you give to someone who has everything? Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once told a group of young media folk he will retire when his data bank can be put into a thumbdrive. Guess what? The pdf version of Tolstoy's monumental "War And Peace", all of 2,882 pages, takes up only 6.23 megabytes. The e-book pdb version is only 1.75 MB. Lee's memoirs number only 680 pages (Vol 1, "The Singapore Story") and 778 pages (Vol 2, "From Third World To First"), including indexes. The Asia Wall Street Journal is giving away this 2 GB drive for free.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

He Didn't Get The Memo

The last time we heard from ex-Chief of Air Force Goh Yong Siang, and currently Senior Managing Director of Strategic Relations, was when his strategy to recover a cherished brand name ended with Temasek Review being renamed as ....... (drum roll) ......... Temasek Review.

Queried about Koran Tempo's report that his company's assets were about to be seized by Indonesian anti-monopoly agency KPPU (Komisi Pengawas Persaingan Usha), his cavalier response was, "Temasek has not received official notification from the Supreme Court." Maybe he didn't get to read the memo, but everybody else is cognizant of the sequence of events:

November 2007 - KPPU ruled Temasek and its affiliates were in breach of Indonesia's anti-monopoly laws. As two of its subsidiaries had stakes in two major Indonesian telecommunication companies, Indosat and Telkomsel, it was in a dominant position to control of more than 50 per cent of the celluar market and allowed it to fix tariff rates. KPPU fined Temasek and the other parties 25 billion rupiah (S$3.7 million) each.
December 2007 - Temasek filed an appeal at Central Jakarta Court, claiming KPPU had no basis for the decision.
May 2008 - The court upheld the KPPU's judgment and ordered the stakes in either Indosat or Telkomsel be sold within two years and reduced the fine to 15 billion rupiah each. ST Telemedia sold its stake in Indosat to Qatar Telecom in June 2009, an act that can be construed as acceptance of the court ruling.
May 2010 - Indonesian's Supreme Court rejected Temask's appeal to overturn the ruling. A fine of 150 billion rupiah (S$22 million) was set, which includes 15 billion rupiah for each of 10 Temasek-linked companies involved in the case.

KPPU commissioner Erwin Syahril said that the competition watchdog is asking a Jakarta district court to "sequester Temasek's assets because there was no payment from it".

The Koran Tempo article has the subhead "Sudah 10 tahun lebih tidak membayar denda", meaning "more than 10 years, fine not paid" - our local equivalent is O$P$. KPPU chairman Tresna Soemardi explains their exasperation, "It (Temasek) always sends letters to say it does not have an office in Indonesia." If Yong's strategy is to act blur like sotong, as in Army days, or "buat bodoh" in Indonesian parlance, he should pay heed to what Muhammad Reza, the agency’s chief of investigations, had to say, “Once the company has been formally notified of the fine and doesn’t pay it, the Indonesian anti-monopoly commission may ask for a court order to seize the assets.” It doesn't get more official than that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Tale Of Two Cities

After a 40 minute hearing, Judge Steven Ashurst of York Crown Court sentenced MOE scholar Wong, 23, to a suspended jail term of 6 months for 17 charges of possessing child pornography videos. He will stay out of jail if he behaves himself for the next 2 years, but he will be listed on the sex offender registry for 7 years. Wong was saved from a potential 5 year imprisonment because the British courts believed that Wong, a first time offender who had pleaded guilty, deserved a second chance in life.

Card carrying PAP member Danny Soo was arrested by the police on 7th July 2009 and jailed 9 months for taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting women. District Judge Lee Poh Choo remarked that even if Soo was active in community service (which was used in his mitigation), he must still face the harsh consequences of his criminal acts. During an exclusive interview with Straits Times in 2007, Young PAP Chairman and MP Teo Ser Luck said he had asked Soo to become the Chairman of Punggol Park Community Club and Citizens’ Consultative Committee in 2006. "He cares for others. He had been volunteering for many years and earned the respect of others to be…a potential leader," Mr Teo had claimed. Too bad his political master cared nought for him. The used douchebag even had to return his Public Service Medal, awarded for 15 years of grassroots work.

Singapore's justice system was inherited from British colonial days. Despite similar origins, the disparity between the administration in both countries makes one wonder if the law here serves to rehabilitate or to evoke punitive malfeasance. Lip service is paid by the politicians for the "Yellow Ribbon Project", spearheaded by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network, a group of major community and government organisations tasked for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. One of their stated objectives: Inspire community Action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders back into society. Yet, one won't be surprised if things really get out of hand. Like the case of the Muslim cleric arrested in north-west Bangladesh, following the death of a woman who was publicly caned as punishment by an Islamic court for an extra marital affair.

One could speculate that the British judge may have be tempered by the spirit of charity during this yule-tide season, when Christians celebrate the birth of a Saviour to save sinners. As for us, we are just relieved we no longer have a Chief Justice whose dispensation of justice depends on the quality of the breakfast he feasted on the particular morning of the court hearing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bomb At Our Doorstep

When Malaysia's Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin pronounced plans to get its first nuclear power plant up and running by 2021, there was no public uproar, unlike the local reaction to the building of the two casinos. Malaysia has been operating its 1MW TRIGA® Mark II research reactor since 1982 and signed an international nuclear safeguards agreement in 1972.
A nuclear power plant consists of four fundamental elements: the reactor, the coolant system, the electrical power generating unit, and the safety system.

The source of energy in a nuclear reactor is the fission reaction in which neutrons collide with nuclei of uranium-235 or plutonium-239, causing them to split apart, producing huge amounts of energy.

Energy produced in the reactor is used to boil coolant (water, liquid sodium, or carbon dioxide gas) and heat water in a secondary system, to produce steam to rotate the blades of a turbine. The turbine powers a generator that produces the desired electrical energy.

The safety system in a nuclear power plant addresses a most serious potential problem: the loss of coolant in the system. If such an incident were to occur, the reactor core could melt down, spewing radioactive materials to the rest of the plant and the outside environment.

When generating unit No.4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine blew up in 1986, radioactive clouds released were detected as far away as in Western Europe. Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was diagnosed in 134 people on-site, of which 28 people died. 10 years after the industrial accident, remains of the Chernobyl reactor were too radioactive for anyone to spend more than a few minutes in the area. Experts claim that nuclear power plant can never explode like a nuclear bomb.

Still, boys will be boys, and scientists playing with spent uranium rods might be tempted to moonlight for bad guys. Fortunately, according to the Newsweek Dec 20 article ("Killing The Killers" by Roen Bergman), Israel's Mossad are pretty good at terminating these shady characters, as in terminate with extreme prejudice.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking Desperately For Good News

It looks like December is a month of bad news. Mark Zuckerberg beat Julian Assange as TIME's Person of the Year. There may be credibility in the book account ("The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich) of how the original Facebook idea was stolen from the Winklevoss twins - why else settle so quickly for 1.2 million common shares and pay $20 million in cash? With a networth of $6.9 billion, he should be able to afford fancy lawyers like OJ Simpson's dream team.

Assange's standing could have been smeared by one Swedish woman's accusation of tampering with a pristine prophylactic product. In Norway, the locals told me a joke about their neighboring country in the south. They say Jesus couldn't have been born in Sweden - Mary was a virgin.

Back home, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng is re-elected to the Central Executive Committee. Which means complacency is being rewarded, once again, for more good years. Just what the country needs with the housing bubble on the verge of bursting, and COE soaring towards the $100,000 level. And Malaysia just announced plans to build two 1000MW nuclear power plants by 2021- looks like the arms race is really on. Time to shut up these talkative diplomats at MFA.

The worst news has to come from Hongkong's Consumer Council which claims that potato chips cause cancer. Acrylamide is identified as the carcinogen, which was found in all 90 types of starchy crispy snacks tested (except one). But why pick on potato chips like premier brand Kettle, supposedly containing 3,000 micrograms(mcg) of acrylamide per kilogram, when ordinary biscuits can contain up to 2,100 mcg per kg? One gets suspicious when the highly salted and just as crispy Want Want Rice Cracker is reported to contain only 6 mcg per kg. So are we heading for a potato-rice war as well?

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Exactly Did Not Take Place?

Mr Danny Soo Ee Hock, member of the ruling PAP party and its youth wing Young PAP, was a prominent grassroots leader of the Punggol Park Community Club Management Committee, and a recipient of the Public Service Medal (PBM) on National Day 2010. He's no. 92 on page 5 of the honours list.
He also happpened to take about 200 upskirt videos of unsuspecting women with a USB pen camera pen while riding the escalators of shopping malls. District Judge Lee Poh Choo said Soo knew full well what he was doing and deemed him a serial offender. Too bad he was a highly regarded member of the People's Association, and hailed as an example of the new blood renewing grassroots ranks.

Or maybe he was. His glorious write-up was expunged from the website, but a sneak peek at the html source code reveals the redacted material:

Part of the official statement issued by George Yeo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the leaked cables reads, "On the specific complaints raised by the Malaysians, what Singapore officials were alleged by WikiLeaks to have said did not tally with our own records. One purported meeting did not even take place." Let's just say we have seen enough of their integrity in record keeping to place more faith in Julian Assange's archival methodologies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Stingy Heartless Nanny

A man was fined $2,000 yesterday for using "threatening words" on Ms Nancy Quah Suat Lay, 36, chairman of the Young People's Action Party Marine Parade Branch. The unemployed fellow apparently lost his cool as he was not satisfied with their level of aid. Peethambaran had been visiting the branch since July last year to seek help from relevant government agencies after being unemployed for some time. It was noteworthy that Ms Quah alleged the jobless man had threatened to sow discord between Singaporeans and Malaysians, promising to do exactly what was accomplished by our loquacious MFA diplomats with the super sized egos. Instead of issuing a protest note to Singapore over the WikiLeaks disclosures, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman should have made a police report like Ms Quah did.

To appreciate the frustrations someone like Peethambaran might have experienced, just take a gander at the documentation required to qualify for a miserly $300 handout:
1) Your identity card
2) Identity card(s) of family members within the same household
3) Birth certificate(s) of children (below 15 years old)
4) Marriage/ Divorce certificate
5) Latest payslip(s)
6) CPF statement(s)
7) Bank account passbook(s)/ statements/ Medical appointment card(s)
9) HDB booklet (for rental flat)
10) Town Council booklet (service and conservancy charges)
11) Latest SP Services bill
12) Documents on assistance received from other organisations
13) Any other relevant supporting documents eg. prison visiting card, outstanding payments owing to other organisations

And you thought nobody can top how Transport Minister Raymond Lim's LTA made commuters jump through the hoops for a refund of the excessive fare charges incurred by errors in their new fangled distance-based fare system.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, claimed that the number of ComCare applicants has dropped by 11 per cent in the first 9 months of this year, because of an increase of job seekers and a recovering economy. She probably has no freaking idea how many have given up trying to get financial aid from “The Stingy Nanny,” the title of the Economist article wrote up in February this year: “The government does run a handful of schemes directed at some of the needy, from low-income students to the unassisted elderly. But these benefits are rigorously means-tested and granted only sparingly."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Looking After The Bottom Feeders

Singapore cabinet ministers' salaries are pegged to the 48 top earners in the private sector in 6 professions. The scheme is to rank these high rollers according to their paycheck, take the median payand lob off one-third. This way, a minister's salary is "kept competitive" against the private sector, even though the fat cats are safely esconced in the cushy public sector. Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Minister-in-charge of the civil service, claimed that while "there is no perfect method for doing this benchmarking", the current method had been debated thoroughly in 1994 and had the support of the (PAP dominated) House.

In the Great Government Salary Debate of 2007, Workers' Party's Mr Low Thia Khiang countered with: "We suggest that the benchmark should take into account international practice, in particular countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland." Low noted that these countries have a pay adjustment scheme, but "unlike Singapore, they all do not have a sure-win formula that ensures civil servants always have the best deal by benchmarking specifically to the top few earners".

"There's simply no point in offering high remuneration just to entice someone to serve if what he is interested in is to make more and more money for himself and his family in pursuit of material interests. Don't forget that even if you don't pay peanuts but pay with a bigger piece, say, a banana, you can still get a monkey," he said. And, thanks to WikiLeaks, we have just seen/heard a lot of them at the MFA.

One year earlier in 2006, while speaking to a election rally in Lee Hsien Loong's home turf of Ang Mo Kio, Low told a rapturous audience that he would rather see the ministers' salaries be pegged what the poorest 20% of Singaporeans earned. Ministers' pay could be multiplied by a factor of 100, and they could still get $80,000 a month. "This will give the ministers an incentive to bring up the income of the lowest 20% of Singaporeans," he said to loud cheers from the epic crowd. To understand why his enthusiatically welcomed proposal fell on deaf ears, look at this recent chart:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deep Throat Revealed

Obviously Australia's The Sun-Herald was being coy about the source for its exclusive story on former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim ("Singapore intelligience agency confirms sodomy act"), which prompted latter to tweet "Source? Polis SB Msia. Bukti tak ada." (Rough translation: who's the freaking ratfink?).  Or perhaps the papers down under just didn't want to have their pants sued off like Wall Street Journal and similar others - the list is long, but distinguished. "I challenge them to produce evidence," blogged an unamused Anwar.

Actually it's a no-brainer to figure out who has the biggest mouth on the island. The deep throat going by the anonymous moniker "them" is none other than Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew allegedly telling Australian officials that Anwar "did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted."

The New Straits Times (Malaysia's version of the Shitty Times) deem this bombshell  a "Hail Mary", and quoted the cable issued in November 2008 that made this explosive observation: "The Australians said that Singapore's intelligence services and (Singaporean elder statesman) Lee Kuan Yew have told ONA (Office of National Assessment, an intelligence network/spy network that includes Singapore) in their exchanges that opposition leader (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted." Karpal Singh, Anwar's lead counsel, is cited as demanding that the Minister Mentor display his evidence, whether it is video, pictures or material witnesses, if he can get Lee to testify. A big IF. Karpal plans to put it to Lee that his "evidence" is flawed because it was supplied by the Special Branch and that the alleged entrapment to fix Anwar was illegal to begin with.

Malaysia's top leaders, either still in shock or recovering from personal remarks flung on their own selves like "incompetent politicians", have refrained from making comments. But Lee's nemesis Mahathir Mohamad could not resist rubbing salt to the wound, telling reporters he believes Lee knew about Anwar's activities.

Nuclear tipped missiles from North Korea may or not may not have the range, but lobbing artillery shells from across the Johore straits is a subject of different trajectory. That should the "merry" out of this season's greeting.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Talking Dickheads in MFA

It's confirmed. The BMD (Big Mouth Disease) is contagious. More virulent that H1N1, our nation's security is being threatened by characters who's pecadillo is to prance around on the world stage, seeking adulation. Foreign Minister George Yeo says not to worry about the "cocktail talk", affirming that these high earners are tasked to imbibe alcohol at tax payers' expense. The least they could do is to learn to hold their liquor, and control that wagging tongue.

Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Permanent Secretary Peter Ho was recorded telling a US official in March 2008 that Mahathir Mohamad had been "throwing stones" at his successor Malaysia Prime Minister Adbullah Badawi. If that's not inflammatory enough, Ho (not the-daughter-in-law) alleges "Najib Razak, he is an opportunist. Although he has not been critical of Singapore, he will not hesitate to go in that direction if it is expedient for him to do so."

Another MFA Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan, in September 2008, told US Deputy Secretary of Defence for South East Asia David Sedney that former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra is "corrupt", along with "everyone else, including the opposition." That label may easily be construed to also smear Thaksin's business partners like Ho (the daughter-in-law). Kausikan went so far as to allege that Thaksin "made a mistake in paying off the crown prince by paying off the crown prince's gambling debts." This clown prince should know that les majeste is no smiling matter in the Kingdom of Thailand.

But the greatest surprise is to find Tommy Koh, he of the Law of the Sea fame, submerging into murky depths to black mouth Japan as "the big fat loser" in the context of improving ties between China and Asean. He also attributes the decline of Japan's position in the geo-political region to its "stupidity, bad leadership , and lack of vision." He likes the "s" word so much he uses it again to trash India, describing his "stupid Indian friends" as "half-in, half-out" of Asean. I don't suppose he will be shopping at Mustafa Center for Christmas presents.

Witness Julian Assange's problem in Sweden is traceable to a prophylactic malfunction, and in the case of "Woman B", Sofia Wilén, the absence thereof in the morning after episode II (apparently having consensual sex in that country without a condom is considered rape, punishable by a minimum of 2 years imprisonment). For Singapore's woes, a humongous rubber of industrial strength is definitely needed to shield us from the talking dickheads.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gambling With Your House

The Macmillan dictionary defines subsidy as "an amount of money that the government or another organization pays to help to reduce the cost of a product or service". The closest one can get Mah Bow Tan to admit HDB housing is not subsidised is his contribution today:
"In contrast (to market based pricing), a cost-based system means that the same price would be charged for different flats in the same project, regardless of the location, floor, direction, and other attributes." Just as Clinton once asked his questioner to "define is", Mah is challenging you to "define cost".

Mah is trying again, in his nefarious scheming agenda, to muddy a basic concept. A unit on the 12th floor obviously requires longer piping runs and wiring conduits to reach than one on the 2nd floor - these engineering and construction costs can be accounted for without nebulous conjecture. But he factors in subjective elements like "an unblocked view". How does one value an unfettered view of towering concrete blocks versus, say, a maze of MRT tracks?

Further confirmation of his warped logic is evidenced in his statement that "the subsidy must be set relative to market values". That's as good as the NKF definition of subsidy, as exposed by the KPMG investigation team:
6.11.1 The NKF reported in its Investment Report 2004 that it enabled its patients to save in excess of $3.5 million in treatment costs by providing subisdies for costly medication and by bringing down drug prices.

6.11.2 We found that the amount of such savings was derived from the difference between the prices charged by NKF and a notional market price of drugs based on estimated annual consumption in 2004 instead of the difference between the prices charged by the NKF and the actual prices of drugs paid by the NKF. These savings were reflected in invoices given to patients.

6.11.4 As mentioned above, the market price was a notional market price determined by the NKF. The NKF, being a substantial and significant purchased, enjoyed subsidies and rebates from its drug suppliers. Instead of passing these costs savings to its kidney patients, we found that the NKF charged its patients a premium for certain drugs.

"In my understanding of NKF's view, subsidy must be tested against the market rate and not the net amount incurred." Doesn't that sound remarkably like Mah's sermonising?

Mah's pathetic defence of his Singapore Sales strategy (mark up first, then discount down) is his "basic principle" that the HDB flat is an asset that grows in value, to be realised in the future for resale in the open market. In other words, basic accommodation is not meant to be the roof over one's head, it is just another poker chip in their grand scheme of things. That, of course, is consistent with his boss' stubborn plans to build, not one, but two humongous gambling dens, despite widespread public outrage and inevitable social detriment.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Elites Take Charge

Ever wonder why the uppity powers that be always seen to ignore the mutterings of the groundswell and end up making life more miserable for the masses? Author Yves Smith ("ECONned", Palgrave Macmillan 2010, a book about flawed financial theories that culminated in the global meltdown of 2008) has an interesting anecdote that may provide some clues.

When Henry Kissinger was first made head of the US National Security Council, Daniel Ellsberg of RAND Corporation was briefing him on options for Vietnam, and chose to add these words of advice:
You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you are about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe 15 or 20, that are higher than top secret...

First, you'll feel exhilarated by some of this new information... you will forget there was ever a time that you didn't have it, and you'll be aware of the fact that you have it now and most others don't... and that all these other people are fools.

Over a longer period of time... you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information... In the meantime, it will become difficult for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to him, "What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know?" And that mental exercise is so torturous that... you'll give it up and just stop listening...

The danger is that you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

Scarcely 2 years later, Kissinger, in a meeting with Ellsberg, dismissed the group resignation of a team of consultants in Cambodia in protest of the policy of escalation because "They never had the clearances." Yet the consultants turn out to be correct. Kissinger's course of action was a failure.

Maybe it's time to change out the morons in charge.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dark Clouds Are Gathering

When informed that the new statutory board set up to investigate real estate miscreants had already received 150 complaints, there was something oddly lackadaisical about Mah Bow Tan's response. The National Development Minister said he was not surprised by the number. Does that mean he knew consumers were fleeced by the real estate industry all along and he stood by doing nothing? Was he in cahoots with them in ramping up the housing prices? Why has he never questioned the legality of the COV (cash over valuation) scam that arbitrarily and capriciously inflates the officially documented market valuation of a property?

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has now promulgated that Singapore's fast-rising home prices are "worrying", as real-estate lending accounts for more than 50% of total loans in the banking system. That same statistic is as low as 2% for Korea, less than 15% for Indonesia and the Philippines, and below 20% in Hongkong and Thailand. Even in China, where famed short-seller Jim Chanos is betting his own money that the country is experiencing a massive property bubble, the number is below 20%. At 51% of advances, Singapore banking sector's exposure to property is the highest in East Asia, followed by Taiwan (42%) and Malaysia (38%).

Not too long ago, the MAS dismissed the effects of US's quantitative easing, which other countries recognised as fuel for asset bubble formation such as in property markets. And that's on top of Singapore's own unique problems of HDB construction shortfalls and competition from foreign buyers. It is noteworthy that MAS's own annual Financial Stability Review is consistent with ADB's observations: that household debt has been growing at a faster rate in recent quarters - fuelled by housing loans which account for the bulk of household borrowing. Need we add that the servicing of those loan commitments are also diminishing the CPF funds that are supposed to be parked for a retirement safety net?

Don't we have an expensive in-house "forecaster" who is supposed to scan the future for dark clouds? Mah, like the rest of his colleagues, is obviously depending on the short term memory spans of Singaporeans to erase the multiple instances of bad governance. Of the flood of complaints, he said, "I would expect this to taper off over time."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Truth In Advertising

It was déjà vu all over again when I read Ms Lau's letter to the press about being led on a wild goose chase by Courts Bukit Timah for a non-existent $399 laptop. The caveats in said item advertised were "from $399" and "limited sets - one set per customer", clear warning bells for any savvy street-wise shopper.

I was in Jurong East a fortnight before and happened to browse the outlet there when one harried sales assistant asked another colleague for help about a customer's query for a TV on offer. Latter said a clipping of the ad was conditional for the special price (check the ads, pure bunkum). Just then, another early bird shopper came along, newspaper ad in hand, wanting to buy a computer on offer. This time the storyline was, "Sold out! There was along queue before the shop was open!" Just for the heck of it, I piped in and asked about a USB harddrive advertised. "We don't carry that in this shop," was the response. You gotta give credit to those guys for creativity.

Since consumers in Singapore do not have a Ralph Nader to champion their cause (Consumers Association of Singapore is a lost case), don't expect the CEO to be dragged to court (the edifice Alan Shadrake is accused of blaspheming, not the mega-store taking bargain hunters for a ride). Not when poster child Terry O'Connor has recently been given a special foreign talent spread in the papers, praised to the heavens for his "sort of chutzpah that you do not learn in school" when he lambasted his own chairman for a hiccup in the store's roll-out plan. "I don't have a temper but I do have a strong sense of fair play," quipped O'Connor ironically.

"All I want on TV is products at great prices, packages and so on," the native of Liverpool, UK, who left for Singapore in 1993, is quoted as saying about his sales strategy. All the customers want is just some truth in advertising.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happiness Is A Favourable Set Of Statistics

Based on research done by professor Ruut Veenhoven who runs the World Database of Happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam, here is a list of the top 10 happiest countries in the world in ascending order:
10 - Luxembourg
9 - Guatemala
8 - Canada
7 - Sweden
6 - Australia
5 - Finland
4 - Iceland
3 - Austria
2 - Switzerland
1 - Denmark

Quantifying happiness isn't an easy task. Researchers at the Gallup World Poll went about it by surveying thousands of respondents in 155 countries, between 2005 and 2009, in order to measure two types of well-being. Denmark(10) again tops the list, followed by Finland(2), Norway(3), Sweden(4), Netherlands(4). Singapore is tied at 81st spot, shared by Hongkong, Japan and Iran.

Yet American author Dan Buettner is claiming in his new book that statistics from three sources, including above two, pointed to Singapore as the happiest place in Asia. According to him, Singapore has all that correlates to happiness on a worldwide level: 1) tolerance, 2) status equality, 3) security, 4) trust, 5) access to recreation and financial security.

Whoever he talked to obviously didn't brief him about these correlations: 1) filial piety over shelter for Mas Selamat morphed into a political race card, 2) perceptions of citizens relegated as 3rd class denizens, 3) gangfights and fatal stabbings in shopping malls, 4) "subsidised" public housing ending up as unaffordable market value transactions, 5) after a life time of toil, CPF savings are insufficient for retirement.

Buettner got this right though: There is no question that Singapore shows that happiness can be manufactured or engineered through government policy. He explains the magic of the statistics, "When it comes to manufactured happiness, I don't know anybody else on the planet who has done a better job than (MM Lee) has, and I know there will be lots of people laughing at me right now." When people are mandated to be happy, that's not funny Mr Buettner, not funny at all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Monk, The Clown And The Minister

Hey, Money No Enough is my line!
Venerable Shi Ming Yi (Chinese: 释明义) was the darling of Singapore socialites (the government awarded him the Public Service Medal in 1996) when he rappelled down highrise buildings and froze his rocks in ice to raise money, lots of money, for Ren Ci hospital. He has done his time for his $50K crime, but somehow it ain't enough for some people. The gala dinner of Nov 21 to mark his 20 years of service as an abbot apparently has raised the ire of some folks in the Buddhist community. Maybe it was the price tag of $1,000-a-table, maybe this was only his 18th and not 20th year. A nun said, "He's climbed too far up, and now he has a long way to fall."

Trangressions of the flesh are apparently more forgivable in Sin city. Jack Neo's 2 year- extramarital affair with 22-year old model Ms Zhong Jiayan and his sexual harassment of Foyce Le Xuan, 25, could have turned real nasty. Fortunately he had a direct line to George Yeo. It was also convenient that his 46-year-old wife Mdm Irene Kang said she already about the affair a year ago, and WikiLeaks was not a threat then. Nobody even bothered to slap the cross dresser with a court order to stay 100 m away from any nubile aspiring Fann Wong wannabe.

Hence no heads were turned when the philanderer was invited to grace Education Minister Ng Eng Hen's launch of the ITE Performing Arts Higher Nitec programme for 2013. MOE has had its hands full recently with school girls making out on camera in a premier JC, horny female teachers coupling with male students and a principal making hits on their favoured male staff - and getting away with it. Ng Eng Hen seems to take all these shenanigans in good stride, as if it was all a holistic exercise in public education. Let's see if Jack Neo's new film will feature lots of teenagers in Sexy Japanese School Girl Uniforms.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Truth Can Be Pretty Nasty

Now we know why no food stamps will ever be distributed in Singapore, and healthcare will never be free. Even Dr Toh Chin Chye had maintained that citizenry should be entitled to free medical services. Agence France-Presse's report of the Wikileaks has this quote:
"MM Lee noted that he had learned from living through three and a half years of Japanese occupation in Singapore that people will obey authorities who can deny them food, clothing and medicine.”

There is an exception to the rule of course, as in the freebies promised by his son in the coming election budget. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a stern statement chastising the leak, saying that disclosing such confidential document would only "serve to sow confusion". And screw up the whole election strategy.

Given the many parallels that abound in the family influences on Singapore and North Korean style government, say succession plans, the other disclosure in the US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks is disturbing: “They are psychopathic types, with a ‘flabby old chap’ for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.” The laps around the pool and a strict exercise regime may have gotten rid of the flab around the waist, but the part about seeking world stage adulation is pretty obvious. The unsavoury comments about another country's head of state were found in a document detailing a conversation between Lee and US deputy secretary of state James B. Steinberg in May last year. It's not too late to cancel your Christmas holiday plans for Pyongyang.

But what should really rile you is his justification for giving special treating to PRC scholars or new-wave Chinese migrants: "MM Lee noted that his own experience as a student in the UK had left him with an enduring fondness for the UK. When he spent two months at Harvard in 1968, an American professor had invited him home for Thanksgiving. This was not the sort of thing that happened in the UK, and Lee had realized he was dealing with a different civilization. In the future, China’s leaders will have PhDs and MBAs from American universities, he predicted.” Taiwan's Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun detected just as much when George Yeo spoke at UN's General Assembly in 2004, "It was nothing but an effort to embrace China's 'balls', forgive me using such a word".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

None Are So Blind As Those Who Do Not See

"I wander around the city and wonder where the poor people are," observed Paul Vocker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and economic adviser to President Obama, when he was in Singapore to speak at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

In Tokyo, the down and out surface in subway stations after the last commuter has departed, and volunteer workers distribute food packets discretely at the doorstep of their cardboard shelters for the night. Come dawn, just before the morning stampede of the office crowd, they neatly pack away their worldly belongings and vanish for the day.

In Singapore the vagrants are swept up by welfare officers driving around Singapore's housing estates, beaches and streets. According to a report in January 2010, there were about 280 patrols last year, up from 160 in 2007. Those picked up from void decks and beaches last year included 17 families, up from just 4 in 2007. Of the total of 253 people nabbed by officers from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) last year, up from 123 in 2007, 85 per cent were Singaporeans.

Most are dumped at government-run homes for destitutes such as Pelangi Village in Buangkok Green where they get free food, clothes and shelter, but face curbs on their freedom. Think Changi Prison without the criminal tag. About 260 other people, including 43 families, end up in two temporary shelters for the homeless run by New Hope Community Services, a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO). A third shelter, operated by Lakeside Family Service Centre, was set up early this year and is currently housing 12 families.

Some shelter residents were forced to sell their homes because of hard times, they lost their jobs and could not keep up with mortgage payments. About 60 flats are voluntarily surrendered to the HDB every month. "The number of HDB-related cases I see rose significantly after flat prices started to rise," said MP Charles Chong. They have Mah to thank for that.

The shelters house the homeless for only 3 months. After release, about 40 per cent go to live with friends or relatives and about 30 per cent rent a flat from the HDB. The rest probably go back to the streets, to be picked up again, and continue the circle of life for the poor and desperate in Singapore. How could Volcker have missed out on all the action in town? Next time, he should ask MP Lily Neo to show him how the residents in her Jalan Besar ward put up with less than 2 full meals a day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Workfare Betterer Than Minimum Wage, Really?

At the 31st PAP party conference on Sunday, PM Lee said that "Actually, we have something better than minimum wage, we have Workfare." Actually, hor, it depends on how you define "better".

Started in 2006, the Workfare scheme gives cash and CPF monies to Singaporeans aged 35 and above who earn up to $1,700 monthly - it is a shocking testament that 30 percent of wage earners are subsisting on this amount or less.

Lee used the example of a 65-year old earning $1,000 a month (65, and still has to work to stay alive) who will get the maximum payout of $2,800 a year, of which $800 will be in cash and $2,000 goes into the CPF account. Translated in real world terms, it means only cash of $66.66 a month ($2.19 a day) extra is available for food, transportation and utilities bills. The substantial bulk of the Workfare handout is locked up in CPF, to be used as the "nest egg" for retirement at, presumably 85, as government guided trends go. Far from lying idle, truth be told, quite a bit of the funds have already been burnt in toxic investments by the financial wizards at GIC and the like.

The creation of the Workfare initiative in Singapore is claimed by some to be inspired by the US Bill of welfare reforms designed to encourage economic self-sufficiency. Apparently it was the system developed by the state of Wisconsin that served as a model for Singapore because of its numerous successes in reducing the number of recipients on welfare. There's a key difference of course, Singapore does not have a welfare system to begin with. If you still have a pair of working legs or hands, you can wipe tables or clean toilets up to the ripe old age of 90, for all they care. If you are handicapped, physically or mentally challenged, you don't get to receive the largesse of $2.19 a day at all. Which is hardly enough anyway for three meals a day, at hawker center, food court or restaurant.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brains Without Balls

Johanna Wokalek stars in "Pope Joan", a movie about an Englishwoman who purportedly disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female pontiff in history. The Roman Catholic Church is not amused, and maintains she was a mythical figure used by the early Protestant Church to discredit and embarrass Rome.

In the well-documented 1413 heresy trial of Jan Hus, this statement of his was not challenged: "Many times have the Popes fallen into sin and error, for instance when Joan was elected Pope, who was a woman." And there is circumstantial evidence difficult to explain if there was never a female Pope, the so-called chaise percée or Porphyry Chair owned by the Vatican Museum, which has been part of the medieval papal consecration ceremony for almost 600 years. Each newly elected Pope after Joan had to sit on the sella stercoraria (literally, "dung seat"), a special marble chair with a hole in the middle to facilitate examination by physicians to ensure that he was truly a man. Afterward the examiner would solemnly inform the gathered people, "Mas nobis nominus est" -- "Our nominee is a man." Only then was the Pope handed the keys of St. Peter.

Today the ruling party will be huddling together to elect a new Central Executive Committee, using a secretive process styled after the way the Vatican selects a new pope. In 1988, Wong Kan Seng revealed that there were more than 1,000 PAP cadres (the register of cadres is kept confidential). To become a cadre, a party member has to be first nominated by the MP in his or her branch. Cadre members have the right to attend party conferences and to vote for and to be elected to the CEC, the fount of political power and privilege.

Since the whole shebang is so top secret, nobody really knows what goes on behind the closed doors. George Yeo likes to repeat what his brother Jim once told him, that to succeed in life, one needs the 3 B’s. What are the 3 B’s? They are Brains, Balls and Breaks. "Brains without balls doesn’t get you very far," says the Foreign Minister. Makes you wonder if they have their own version of the "sella stercoraria." After all, what self respecting Singaporean wants to be led by an Ah Kua?

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Less Is More

In announcing the greatest bonus payout for the 74,000 civil servants since 1994 (2.5 months plus 1 minimum next year), the Government took pains to highlight that pay adjustments due since last year for ministers and top civil servants will be put on hold again. Before you shed a tear for your altruistic MP, take a look at the chart.

Except for local manufacturing and MNC, all the professionals' median salaries included in the private sector benchmark scheme, some say scam, used to compute ministers' pay have headed south - which makes the "Local Manufacturer" with a double digit net positive jump a suspect statistic. Remember MM Lee's comment about the "pipe dream" that local companies can compete with successful ones in other parts of the world? MNC's, as is well known, always have had out of this world expatriate packages and "hardship allowance" tweaks. If ministerial salaries are indeed indexed against the declining trend, shouldn't they be pointing in the same direction? Since we are told the "planned adjustment" for the ministers have been deferred for the third time, it's a no brainer to conclude that they have been grossly over compensated for the past 3 years and maybe more. For those lower ranked civil servants swooning over their bumper bonus and $300 one-time pay off, read on.

Despite the big sacrifice of foregoing salary adjustment, ministers at the entry level grade of MR4 will take home $1.58 million this year, up from last year's $1.49 million - that's $90,000 extra. Administrative officers at the entry level Superscale Grade of SR9 will get $365,000, up from $338,000 - that's $27,000 extra. Kinda makes the 300 bucks look puny, doesn't it? Note also they quote only the "entry level" numbers, meaning the actual average hike for the top dogs will definitely be more than enough for a pastry cooking lesson in France. Makes you wonder how Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, minister in charge of the civil service paychecks (including his own), will account for the extraneous compensation outlay - classify them as "Other Costs" as inspired by Balakrishnan's creative YOG accounting?

A number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have already told the press that they won't be able to match the Government's generosity for its own rank and file. The Chairman of wallpaper supplier Goodrich Global, not feeling particularly good or rich this year, said he will probably pay his 150 employees a maximum of 2 months bonus. Deputy secretary-general of NTUC Halimah Jacob said workers are paid less during bad times but are rewarded fairly during good times. Fat cats with recession proof payola packages excepted.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

About That Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

Britain's Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne must be a very powerful man. All he had to do was "express dismay" after author Alan Shadrake was sentenced by a Singapore court on 16 November to 6 weeks in prison and fined S$20,000 for expressing his personal views on the legal system. “I look forward to constructive discussions when I visit Singapore next month, which I hope will serve to strengthen further the level of engagement and cooperation between our countries,” was his carefully phrased challenge to his diplomatic counterpart to recognise the right to freedom of expression as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Buried somewhere in the diplomatic jargon must be a coded message that caused the foreign affairs ministry and/or judicial officials to soil their underwear. In an unprecedented move, the Attorney General’s Office made an extraordinary application for the court on 23 Nov, to remind Mr Alan Shadrake of his right to seek leave of court if he wants to "exit the jurisdiction". According to Shadrake’s lawyer M Ravi, normally it is the prerogative of defence counsel to explore this escape route for a defendant not domicile in Singapore, and the AG to gleefully and vehemently contest it. Most don't even bother, given the slim chance of success in the kind of judicial system documented in Shadrake's book. Just ask Swiss national Oliver Fricker.

The turn around couldn't be more dramatic. In passing sentence, Justice Loh had pointed out that the law was not concerned with the sensitivities of the judge ”but whether there was risk in public confidence of the independence of the courts being undermined". He even castigated Shadrake’s apology as “nothing more that a tactical ploy in court to obtain a reduced sentence while mounting a different stance elsewhere.” And there was the veiled threat of being investigated by the police for criminal defamation; for which his passport is being held by the police.

Shadrake wrote in his book that the German government applied maximum pressure on Singapore to save Julia Bohl from the gallows, through the clever ploy of issuing a revised laboratory report that said only 281 of the 687 grams of cannabis found in her possession were pure stuff. The 15 grams of heroin that Amara Tochi from Nigeria was hanged for did not benefit from similar laboratory analysis. If Britain is exerting pressure through Browne, public confidence of the independence of the courts will no doubt be undermined. And additional fresh material will be provided for Shadrake's new book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MOE Is Just Following Regulations

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is initiating moves to terminate Nur Aini's employment as a Malay language teacher for rendering her uncle assistance in a time of desperate need. She chose kin rather than country, a country whose citizens have started to question the worth of defending. A country which doles out school places, jobs, housing and seats on the MRT, to the detriment of its own local born and bred. Nui Aini will be spending Xmas in a lock-up for abetting an offence.

MOE, however, is choosing to ignore a not too dissimiliar crime committed by teachers at Chinese High and Hwa Chong Junior College. Alumnus Jonathan Wong was caned publicly for peeping into a women's toilet when he was in Secondary 3. Police was not informed, no report was registered of the criminal offence, which is punishable by jail up to one year and/or fine. The teachers chose to exclude the trangression from Wong's school testimonials and abetted him to secure the Teaching Scholarship (Overseas) in 2006. MOE states they made the award based on academic and co-curricular records and testimonials written by his teachers.

In an effette attempt to exonerate their criminal liability, a Hwa Chong Institution spokeperson inadvertently made the damning confirmation, "The teachers' testimonials were based on their observation of Jonathan during his time under their charge." The teachers "thought he had learnt from his mistake" and conspired to groom their young charge, whose scholar career path will surely be gilded by the PSC to superscale nirvana, and conceivably culminate to millionaire status in a cabinet position.

Wong was supposedly counselled and "responded well", the teachers claimed (Google "Hardcore child pornography shame of University of York student Jonathan Wong"). Miss Nui Aini was not accorded a similar opportunity to avoid incarceration. It is no comfort to her that MP Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC) said MOE is merely following regulations, adding, "there will be efforts to assist her so she continues to remain employable." Let's hope Al Qaeda won't offer her a scholarship first.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Family Affair

According to revelations in parliament on Monday November 22, three Singaporean Malays admitted to providing sanctuary to fugitive Mas Selamat, after being "confronted with the facts" last month in October 2010. Brother Asmom, sis-in-law Aisah and niece Nur Aini easily fooled Wong Kan Seng's highly decorated (and highly rewarded) Home Team by deliberately and successfully withholding key information when they were first interviewed by the authorities on March 3, 2008.

New Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam upstaged his predecessor by revealing to Parliament that Mas Selamat had stayed overnight in his brother’s Tampines flat on Feb 29, 2008, before absconding to Malaysia with a getaway backpack containing an EZ-link card, S$100 and RM100 in cash, hair-net which he wore as part of his disguise, tudung, map and some paracetamol. The abetting trio, Nur Aini (18 months' jail), Asmom (12 months) and Aisah (3 months) were arrested and charged last week on November 10.

Speaking at a community event on 25 September 2010, soon after the Malaysians handed over the fugitive, then still Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng had declared, “I am sure that Singaporeans are very interested to know how he escaped. I can assure Singaporeans that when the information he gives can be verified... I will let Singaporeans know more about how he escaped.” And as late as 18 October 2010, in his Oral Answer to MP Christopher De Souza, Wong merely recanted the embarassing toilet break episode without shading new light on how the terrorist managed to leave Singapore and made his way to Malaysia.

So how is it Shanmugam had access to the wealth of details in the month of October and not Wong? Wong officially relinquished his post on 27 October.Was the Home Team playing favourites, denying Wong his last hurrah, or were they biding their time to hand over the goodies to their new paymaster (and just in time for the Xmas bonus)? Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim lamented that Mas Selamat was aided by family members, “I am disappointed because we know that Singaporeans from all backgrounds have come together since 2002 – the Malay/Muslim community very prominently – to keep the lid on the danger of terrorism.” As they say, blood is thicker than water, but sometimes political intrigue transcends over all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Keeping You Awake At Nights

While the rest of the world battens down for the effects of US's quantitative easing - and the tsunami of billions heading for their shores - the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) appears to play the smart alec contrarian.

From Australia to India, countries remembered their Economic 101 lessons and raised interest rates to stem the tide of inflation. South Korea and Japan announced precautionary measures to dampen rapid rises in their exchange rates which threaten the competitiveness of their exports. The inflow of hot money, estimated at as much as US$2 billion a day, have boosted currencies from the Australian dollar to Thai baht to record highs. Thailand is contemplating capital controls.

Initially, the economists tell us that Singapore need worry only about imported inflation, to justify maintaining the S$ at a record high against the greenback. Now they are saying the capital inflows are channelled overseas, and only a small portion leaks into the domestic economy. The vulnerable stock and property markets, which fuel asset bubble formation, have prompted Hong Kong to implement protective measures, but local experts are claiming "a vibrant stock market benefits investors", and magic bullets have been dispensed against the property madness. It's enough to keep a sane man awake at nights.

In his speech to the NUS Economics Alumni in December 2008, Ngiam Tong Dow touched on how MAS eschews interest rate as a policy instrument, opting instead to intervene directly in foreign exchange markets, trading the Singapore dollar against a basket of currencies predominated by the US$. "While such a policy may be effective against disruptive short-term inflows of foreign currencies, is it adequate as a long-term policy instrument?" he had asked his audience of peers.

Apparently the weapon of choice employed by MAS can be carbon dated to when Goh Keng Swee was still at the helm. Ngiam himself believes that our dollar should be pegged to US$ only, just as two of our major trading partners - China, including Hongkong, and Malaysia - have been doing. Which begs the question whether the MAS is wielding an antiquated blunt instrument, and whether it has left its brain on cruise-control all along. One point is clear, the competitive advantage associated with a weaker currency tends to attenuate the standard of living of the population, and who dares to spoil the partying of the rich and elites?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Squeezing Blood Out Of Fossilised Stone

It was painful to hear MM Lee Kuan Yew struggling to mouth his vocally challenged reponses at an open dialogue session held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hewlett-Packard Singapore. Anyone attempting to make sense of the guttural noises eminating from his tortured throat can see that the man is not in his best of health, and his abbreviated attention span showed through in the short replies. Except for the DBS guy who was obviously trying his luck (or showing off his ignorance) if he thought Lee had the answers for USA's economic problems, the rest of the guests were merciful enough to keep the questions simple.

In volume one of his memoirs (The Singapore Story, page 203), Lee narrated the May 1995 riot account of a protesting 17 year old Chinese student shot by a policeman's revolver. Instead of taking him straight to the hospital, the other students put him on a lorry and paraded him around the town for three hours. By the time he was brought to the hospital, he was dead from the wound in his lung. Lee wrote, "But what was one life if another martyr could stoke up the fire of revolution?"

Whatever the mileage they may want to squeeze out of him, surely we don't need the spectre of an octogenarian making the election circuit in an open lorry? Even if they could put him in a Steve Hawkins type rig, complete with DECtalk DTC01 voice synthesizer and predictive text entry system, he'd still utter garbage like, "Singapore's small bases means it would be a "pipe dream" for the country to develop its own companies and expect them to compete with successful ones in other parts of the world". Hello, ever heard of Creative? Does Soundblaster ring a bell in your hearing aid? The Company that Apple had to shell out US$100 million to in settlement of a patent suit? Mr Sim, kindly accept our apologies for his ignorance and impudence.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still Fumbling After All Those Years

Addressing the Economic Society of Singapore in 2004, Nigiam Tong Dow told his audience that, "from sunrise to sunset, economists always think they are right and every other Gentile is wrong. But when the sun sets and darkness descends on an economy, economists are as much at a loss as anybody else unschooled in the dismal science." Unfortunately for the lesser mortals struggling in the dystopia, these government appointed experts always seem to be able to walk away with a positive spin on their follies.

Yesterday's festivity was the occasion of the launch of his book, "Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story" - actually a collation of his speeches, inteviews and articles - and the author and Singapore's youngest Permanent Secretary in 1972 at age 35 had gained notoriety with public quips like, "I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP." Foreign Minister George Yeo had to admit Ngiam "almost killed (his pet) the Esplanade project." There was no budget to justify Yeo's extravagance, but the dilettante pandering to snotty tastes of the bejewelled elites used "future earnings" to bankroll the monstrous edifice. We do not know the context wherein Yeo claimed Ngiam purportedly complimented him "when the Esplanade proved to be a resounding success." Like the Clarke Quay watering holes, the Esplanade is patronised by the expatriates and the nouveau riche, or rich kids spending dad's old money, not exactly the destination of choice for the majority of HDB heartlanders. Maybe the "success" inferred to had to do with the influx of foreigners.

Ngiam revealed that in the 1970s, at EDB where he was wet nursed, the planners wanted to have a bigger population because they studied the populations of small countries like Israel, Norway, Sweden and somehow concluded that they were very successful because of the critical population size of 5 million. Today, according to Ngiam, technology has changed, and while Singapore must remain open to ideas from outside, he recommends that we should be more selective.

"You bring in someone from outside, his average education must be higher than our average. Otherwise he doesn’t add anything. So you must always bring in a better chap, not just bring in the numbers. Numbers are no longer what counts. What counts is knowledge and education."

Now hold your horses. Didn't the PM, SM and whatever M, said that foreigners are needed in large numbers to build the HDB flats, nevermind that nobody can afford the prices that Mah Bow Tan rigs up anyway? Is the emphasis on the "foreign" or on the "talent"? Are we on the verge of a new diaspora when Singaporean professionals will have to start packing their bags because this ex-civil servant is advocating they be replaced by foreigners with more "knowledge and education"? What good will this ethnic cleansing exercise do, if future Singapore is without Singaporeans?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Singtel Slammed

The mystery is solved - why our super duper broadband access sometimes dwindle to such a pathetic crawl that we can't even connect to Yahoo! mail. It so happens that ISP Singtel is at liberty to, and actually does, "throttle" their consumers' broadband speeds to suit their nefarious intents.

The Sydney-based Australian Federation Court has found Singtel-Optus guilty of "deceptive conduct" under the Trade Practices Act. Singtel's ads had offered a monthly plan for download of data during peak and off-peak hours. But if a consumer had exceeded his quota of peak hour usage, his broadband speed during off-peak would slow substantially (the whole service would be slowed to 64 Kbps). This occurs even if the consumer had not used any of his off-peak data quota. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCS) took them to court for the trickery. The Court ruled that Singtel had failed to sufficiently inform potential consumers their broadband speeds would be throttled back to sub-broadband levels.

Here in Singapore, they don't bother to give you 3 Mbps of promised speed even if you had explictly signed up for it. And who is there to stop them from siphoning off bandwidth to support their higher priced 10 Mbps customers (who is also conned by the same "up to" qualifier in the ads)? Or feed their resource hungry mioTV service?

The judge noted that in its arguments, Singtel-Optus implied that consumers do not rely on ads and cannot, under those circumstances, be misled by them. Note also the caustic in Justice Nye Perram's remarks, "This proposition sits uncomfortably with the size of the advertising campaign in question, which is clearly substantial and inconsistent with an exercise conducted sheerly for the merriment of its designers."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do Singapore Lawyers Talk To Each Other?

Remember the President of the Law Society, Mr Wong Meng Meng, who was so quick to jump on M Ravi for shooing the pesky reporters out of the his office, writing officially to him and the proprietor of the firm he works at "to seek a full report, on an urgent basis, on what transpired”? Seems like he has an unique sense of priorities.

This time, members of the Law Society (LawSoc), Ravi probably included, are riled by Wong's initiative to provide business class air tickets for council members travelling on business for the society.

Writing in the Law Gazette, Wong gave an account of his 6-hour coach ride to KL for an official engagement, detailing how he and other council members had to endure the "filthy toilets" at the Golden Mile Complex. No, he did not write officially to the proprietor of the firm he made his travel arrangements with "to seek a full report, on an urgent basis, on what transpires" at the convenience stop. Without seeking prior approval, Wong and companions bought airplane tickets for the return journey because "we had suffered far beyond the call of our duty to the Singapore legal profession". His follow up action was to persuade the LawSoc Council to approve business class travel for council members for trips exceeding 5 hours. There's nothing outrageous in the proposal, which is in line with most travel policies of private profit generating companies, except that LawSoc members have to cough up $200 each for their use of the VIP airport lounge toilet facilities. By the way, did anybody notice the legality of the transgression incurred when the lawyers flew without prior official approval?

Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore (ACLS) president Subhas Anandan commented, "We do not know how serious the president is... but if he is serious, then we will seriously object." Meanwhile, obviously oblivious to the objections, Wong claims he has "not received any complaints about the new travel policy". It's a sorry state of the Singapore legal profession when lawyers don't talk to each other anymore. Oh, we forgot, this Wong guy communicates only via official correspondence, "to seek a full report, on an urgent basis, on what transpired".

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's Not Wrong If...

It was a curious thing to hear Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew say, that admission to a primary school is not meritocratic, since it matters if you have a sibling already there, or pa or ma is an alumnus. He also said the system favours the social class of your parents. The planners must have had more in mind than the one kilometer ruling when RGPS was sited at Hillcrest Road (prime District 10), and Punggol Primary in a humbler neighbourhood. Never mind all that, the PSLE levels the playing field, and meritocracy is restored in the secondary schools, where entrance criteria is based on performance. Or is it?

A libel suit has now brought to air about what really goes on in those school placement exercises. Madame G had blogged that retired teacher Mrs W took bribes from parents and guardians in return for placing their children in her school. W sued G for defaming her by alleging she had demanded $3,000 for each student placed, vitiating the noble intents of meritocracy. Interestingly, this is the same figure that has been bandied around the kopi tiam and wet market circuits for quite a while, wherever desperate housewives congregate to brainstorm and ensure their ward gets a leg up in the paper chase crazed society of Singapore. Stories abound of "chao kuan" creative director types who promised free advertising services (and then sent their staff over for the pro bono work), as well as the less monied who volunteered for school crossing patrol duties, with no firm assurance their long hours under the sun and rain (at least 40 hours) will achieve the desired goal.

Instead of dwelling on the cancer metastasizing in the education system, PAP MP Michael Palmer and lawyer for the defence is nitpicking about whether his client had alleged W was seeking the cash donation for her person or for the school. Even trial judge Justin Chong shared his sense of values by opining that "a reasonable alternative reading was that the money was for the school". Ergo, if the money goes to the school, the purpose ennobles the deed. End justifies means. What amounts to a whistle blower case has been warped into a sordid tale of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a twisted system.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Seated Candidate

"If I'm fit, I'm prepared to stand". That's an interesting choice of word right there, considering that the speaker recently has always been photographed sitting down. His other criteria was, ".. and capable of making another speech like this."

That he may be ambulatory challenged should not worry the electoral architects too much, they make such nifty wheel chairs nowadays. Besides, these folks have more than enough stashed away in the war chest to pay for Anthony Le's US$4,000 Ironman suit featured in Popular Science. Then again, Gus Dur was sightless, and yet could still end up being President. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

The worrrying part about his speech making was his advice to HDB flat owners not to sell and opt for renting. By his own admission, flats that used to cost $30,000 to $40,000 are now carrying price tags of about $300,000. So if asset appreciation is not to be realised for the liquid profits, what exactly was the purpose of the investment in the first place, pray tell? He may not understand it, but those contemplating selling off the roof over their heads are probably in dire need of hard cash to pay the bills. One recalls not too long ago when the desperate, retrenched and jobless, sought the use of their CPF funds to put food on the table. The heartless bureaucrats refused to budge, insisting that the locked up funds were meant for retirement in future years, without realising that the petitioners did not have enough even to see through another week of hellish living. Maybe he was just insensitive to the problems on the ground, or maybe the interferons in his brain have been misfiring with the passage of time. You be the judge.

Whether Reform Party's declared intention to contest the Tanjong Pagar GRC is premature is a subject of separate debate. But judging by the grinning faces of the meretricious cohorts standing behind their seated sponsor, the dubiety of the electoral results may be a moot point. Has Sam Tan, Indranee Rajah, Koo Tsai Kee, LimTuck Yew or Baey Yam Keng made any significant contribution for the betterment of society in their years of office? Does it matter? So long as Humpty Dumpty does not fall off the wall too soon, they know their golden goose is good for another 5 years or more. Their iron rice bowl is reinforced with kevlar, 5 times stronger than steel on an equal weight basis, and second only to the gerrymandering tricks of the GRC system.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Your Money's Worth

The truth is out. All those who signed up for pricey internet broadband access services may have been short changed all along. IDA statistics recorded that a consumer who used a 30 Mbps service in September achieved only 1 Mbps downloading from a US website. Even the download speed from a local Singapore site clocked only at 27 Mbps.

IDA should also take a look at the state of our HDTV development. In April 2010, StarHub announced it was updating its digital terrestrial delivery platform from MPEG-2 to advanced MPEG-4 compression technology from Grass Valley™. Apparently it had been using ViBE MPEG-2/4 SD and HD compression equipment for its mix of SD and HD channels. The company's digital terrestrial television (DTTV) service was supposed to migrate completely from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 in two stages. The new StarHub DTTV platform was scheduled to be on air using Grass Valley's MPEG-4 products by mid-Q2 2010, and the company's cable TV MPEG-4 HD expansion was set for late-Q2 2010.

What this means is that, prior to Q2 2010, or whenever they finally get their act together, Starhub's subscribers have not been benefitting from full HD quality delivery.

On an interesting note, Grass Valley is undergoing an reorganization announced in March 2010 by parent company Technicolor, which has been trying to sell Grass Valley since early 2009.

Technicolor said the moves were being made to adapt Grass Valley to "a strongly deteriorated business climate" that saw its revenues fall 31% between 2008 and 2009, and losses total $109.5 million. In an effort to bring the business back to the break-even point, Technicolor will eliminate 25% of Grass Valley's workforce, totaling 625 jobs worldwide.

Early adopters beware!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is Today Different From Yesterday?

The best part about TODAY is that it's distributed free, proof that printed media makes its profits from advertisements, and content is subsidiary justification for it's existence. Makes one wonder why Minister Shanmugam wasted his breath trying to convince the skeptical champions of liberal journalism that Singapore needs to be paranoid about its press control.

The optimists are taking to heart Goh Chok Tong's comments at the paper's 10th anniversary dinner when he said, "I support the newspaper’s aim to get its readers thinking about the issues of the day." Quoting from selective sources like public relations firm Edelman and Nielsen Media to support his argument that newspapers are Singaporeans' preferred source of news, he avers that these surveys "testify to the credibility of the Singapore media, and the trust and confidence they enjoy among Singaporeans". Such trust will be more convincing except for the front page banner that has National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan repeating ad nauseam, "Whichever objective we choose, it is clear that rather are enough HDB flats within reach of homebuyers." Whatever lesson Goh may have learnt from student Lim Zi Rui's sad tale of an engagement torpedoed by HDB prices, reported fully in TODAY only a few days ago, it must have been quickly dissipated like the morning mist. Credibility is supposed to be long lasting.

Didn't someone recently tell a US audience, "It (the media) should be a neutral medium for conveying news – with commentary clearly separate from news"? It must be wistful thinking to contemplate a Fourth Estate, when the publishing house counts among its chairmen – past and present – political appointees and office holders, and in the case of SPH, ex-intelligence services types like former ISD director Tjong Yik Min and curry-puff supplier Chua Lee Hoong. Which also explains why a post-retirement Permanent Secretary is given a new lease in the gravy train as chairman of MediaCorp. As the government appointee is neither businessman, entrepreneur nor media socialite, his predecessor Ho Kwon Ping must have felt insulted by the choice of a nobody who earned his brownie stripes doing procurement in Mindef. But ah, in the grand scheme of things, it makes perfect sense to plant a mole in the journalistic pool. The Minister said they are paranoid, remember?